Out of Nowhere
Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Tuesday, September 12 2000, 12:33 PM
Call him the poor man's Berlioz of rock electronica. Jimi Tenor indulges all his propensities for late romantic grandeur and sweeping musical phrases. When in doubt, blast a full-throated Finnish choir or roaring string section into the yawning gap of failed creation. It's one substitute for musical ideas of one's own. The Lodz symphony orchestra, the poor bastards hired as low-cost back-up for this album, had to beat decibels out of the woodwork to earn their pay this time. As a musical opportunist, Jimi Tenor hobbles along and bolts together a minor reputation outside his native Finland. His true heart is that of a '30s Hollywood B-film music arranger, honorable for its day but that day has long passed and dropped into farce.
It is as a large-scale acoustic pastiche artist that Jimi Tenor becomes a much more interesting topic of discussion. Tenor blatantly ransacks musical histories, ethnic traditions, and the odd jazz or hip-hop touch like a schlockmeister on a crazed K-Mart shopping spree. Take "Night in Loimaa". A wall of brass opens up, followed by sampling from a Chinese folk instrumental, followed successively by electronic flute, heavy-rhythm call-me-Ishmael pumping, interjected electronica, street-chase percussive throb, and it all rides to a finish atop more flat-footed grandiosity with brass cutting its way through the melee. This instrumental is all over the place and no place. The aesthetic is that of purposeless borrowing and profitable multi-syntheses. The song reeks of a flaccid and baroque progression from one effect to the next.
Such tracks of haphazard pilferings constitute an argument against the privilege that musical bricolage has gathered. This is not sampling: it is meta-sampling, unoriginality that lives within the form of putative originality. It is too easy to rationalize borrowing on grounds that all music borrows. As with any art form, the question is always what has been done with that conceptual borrowing. Has it been made anew? The question is never a simple one, although with Jimi Tenor's work here the answer is embarrassingly simple. It is bricolage as a form of cultural plundering.
The title track, "Out of Nowhere," is about as much accomplishment as Tenor achieves on this album. Its modernist orchestralism is uninteresting and redundant. "Hypnotic Drugstore" interweaves Middleastern themes, a jazz horn, electronica and soft vocals, using a global palette to do not much. After much-too-serious and much-too-easy-listening tracks like "Paint the Stars" and "Spell", with their feeble mellow sounds, a listener needs little more convincing: Jimi Tenor needs a career counselor.
The album cover graphic says it all, though inadvertently. The Warhol-esque face of Tenor wears a pair of heavy-rim glasses whose lenses are cut-out photographs of the Lodz orchestra in a recording session. The graphic says 'Wow, look at me baby, I got me a real orchestra this time! Hot damn!' People who know what they are doing with a symphony orchestra don't have to advertise their new musical playtoy. Get away...
The album title should not be Out of Nowhere: it should be Still Nowhere.
Out of Nowhere is a Matador release